Focus on the Family Broadcast

Finding Freedom Through the Art of Forgiveness

Finding Freedom Through the Art of Forgiveness

Have you ever been betrayed by a close friend or a loved one? Does it seem impossible to forgive that person? In this transparent message, Pastor Phil Waldrep shares how to overcome the natural feelings of denial, bitterness, and a need for vengeance, by embracing biblical forgiveness. The benefits of forgiveness include relief from the pain of the betrayal, release from the need for retribution, and a healthy sense of detachment from the situation.
Original Air Date: January 5, 2024

Phil Waldrep:
Can I tell you something this morning? You can try all you want to get even and get revenge. And even if you succeed, you won’t be happy because you’ll still be in bondage.

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John Fuller: Today on Focus on the Family, Pastor Phil Waldrep explains the pain of betrayal and how to find freedom in forgiveness. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Well, the new year is a great time to let go of old baggage. And we’re going to hear how to do that when it comes to anyone who has betrayed us. Uh, our guest, Phil Waldrep, uh, is a pastor and the author of the book Beyond Betrayal: Overcome Past Hurts and Begin to Trust Again. My guess would be a lot of the audience would put their hand up to say, “Okay, I’m in that spot.” Uh, so, if you can’t stay with us, let me encourage you to get a copy.

John: Certainly. Get a copy and then, uh, hit our website up or download our app or check YouTube for, uh, the entire conversation. Uh, our website for that book, Beyond Betrayal, is Here now is Phil Waldrep speaking at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia on Focus on the Family.

Phil: Several years ago, I was invited to speak in a church. And I arrived. And it’s the norm for most churches you go to nowadays, there’s a very clear plan for the worship service. You know who’s singing, and who’s praying, and who’s making the announcements, and so forth. And so, we met the young worship leader, the pastor, and I, along with some others, met before the service. We went over in detail everything that was going to happen.

And the band went out and gotten ready. The choir was out. And the worship leader, the pastor, and I were about to walk into the auditorium. And as we got to the door, the door in that church, there was a glass in the door so you could see actually the crowd in the church, you could see the people, and when we got to the door, the young worship leader started to put his hand to push open the door and he froze. I mean, he literally froze.

I mean, his hand was in the air, his eyes weren’t moving, and he just stood there. It was rather awkward. And the pastor said, “Are you okay? And he said, “No, pastor. I’m not.” Well, the pastor thought what I thought that he had some medical emergency. Something didn’t feel right. And the pastor said, “L- Let’s get you a chair. Sit down. Well, I, I’ll, I’ll get 911.” Well, he said, “No, pastor. I’m physically fine, but I’ve got to go home.” And he left.

The pastor immediately said something to one of the band members who stepped into his role and lead worship. And the next day, that young man called to explain to me why he froze as he went into the auditorium. In fact, he asked me could he speak with me, and he came to see me. And as we said, he said, “I, I need to tell you what I told our pastor because I owe you an explanation.”

He said, “Brother Phil, do you realize that when I put my hand to open that door, and I looked into the crowd,” he said, “It was, it was just an unusual moment that I saw seated in the crowd my father.” He said, “I knew it was my father. And seated to my father was his live-in girlfriend. For a moment, I was glad they were in church.” But he said, “Brother Phil, I have not seen my father in nearly 20 years. And why he chose to come to church today, I don’t know.”

But he said, “I got to tell you, when I saw him, my mind race back to that time when he left my mom for his girlfriend. He left me and my sister. And we went through hard times, not just emotionally but financially because our father walked out of our life. And he’s never been heard from since, but today,” that yesterday, he said, “the day he, of all days, chose to come to church. And I couldn’t do it.”

And I looked at him and I said, “Young man, I need to tell you. I know how you feel.” Now, I said, “I have to be honest. To tell you, my pain is not as deep as your pain because I think having a parent or a spouse walk out would be the worst, but I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I, too, know the pain of betrayal.”

20 years ago, when we launched our ministry, and things were going well, the man who would I consider my best friend, the man who, who was like a brother, the one person that I would say would never betray me, got involved in immoral and unethical behavior. And he went on for a long time. His wife did not know. I did not know. His closest friends did not know.

And it came to light when some legal things happened that didn’t pertain to I and legal things that didn’t pertain to him, but in the process, I learned he had betrayed me, his family, and others. But the problem was it left me in shambles emotionally, spiritually, financially. You see, his sin wounded me and others. The sin of that father walking out wounded his children and his wife. Betrayal hurts people.

Across this auditorium, there are many of you today know exactly what I’m talking about, might have been a parent, spouse, the girlfriend or boyfriend you were gonna do life together, your best friend, your friend who told all the things you shared in confidence knowing they would never tell it, the business partner who went astray. It’s a long list, but you know exactly what I’m talking about.

So, you’ll understand when I tell you there is a series of emotions you go through. The first, I think, is denial. It’s like shock. The closest I can compare it to is like hearing someone you loved has been killed in an accident. A- And just the suddenness and the shock that you weren’t prepared. It’s unexpected.

And in that moment, the best you know to do is just to say, “It’s not true. Tell me it’s not true. Shake me. I, I know this is a bad dream,” but eventually, reality settles and you realize it is true. “I have been betrayed.” So, you find yourself getting angry. You may act on it, you may not, but you’re angry. And I got to tell you. That is a normal response. In fact, Paul said in Ephesians 4, “We can be angry and sin not.”

Anger, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, but when anger gets you, which often happens in a betrayal, and that anger turns into rage, now it is an unhealthy thing. But you’re so angry. And so, you find yourself in that moment. You start reviewing everything. And you start thinking, “Why did they do this?” In fact, that’s the one question everybody wants to know. “Why did this person betray me?” Well, I can answer that for you.

Betrayers always betray for the same reason. They’re selfish. They’re acting in selfishness. They’re putting their desires and their wants ahead of your needs and their love for you. They may not intentionally intend to hurt you, but they have put all of their desires ahead of your love and your needs. They do it because they’re selfish. And I say that because in your anger, you start thinking you aren’t worth anything.

“Maybe my love wasn’t worth anything. Maybe, just maybe, I, I wasn’t a good enough kid for my parents.” No. Let me help you this morning to understand something. When you are betrayed, it’s not your fault. If you have a spouse who’s been unfaithful, they may have told you how you didn’t meet their needs, they may have told you all of those things, but let me tell you, you can go to the Word of God from Genesis to the Revelation, find every case of adultery in the Bible, and not one time did God ever blame the innocent party for the adultery.

It’s selfishness, but you’re angry. If you’re not careful, your anger turns to bitterness. And a root of bitterness comes in your life. And bitterness puts a filter over your eyes, so that every relationship you have is filtered through your betrayal. You trusted this person, therefore you say, “I won’t trust anybody else. No. I’ll, I’ll never trust anybody again. One person hurt me. How could I have been that stupid?”

You find yourself feeling worthless. You feel like they’ve shattered your life and there’s no future. You become bitter about it. And bitterness sometimes leads you to seek revenge. Now, yes, there are extreme cases where people do harm to other people, but what I find with most Christians is we seek revenge but we don’t do it physically. We do it verbally.

When someone says a kind word about a person, why, we make sure that, that we just immediately correct them, “No. He’s not that good of a person,” or, “That’s not what I heard.” And we just feel we have to verbally destroy people because we’re trying to even the score.

So, you’ve gone from denial to anger to bitterness to revenge. And many of you have been living for years in that world. And what you have discovered is it’s not a fun place to be. Here’s the truth that has set you free. Forgiveness frees me forever. I want you to hear that carefully. Forgiveness frees me forever.

So, let me just, for a moment, before I, kind of, unpack that phrase, forgiveness frees me forever, let me just, kind of, for a moment, unpack some things, maybe clarify some things you’ve heard all your life, because see, when I tried to forgive my betrayer, all this stuff came up that I had heard. Like, for example, some people had told me this, “Forgiveness means you forget. And if you ever think about it again, then you’ve not really forgiven.”

John: You’re listening to Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. And, uh, we’re hearing from Pastor Phil Waldrep today. And you’ll find more wisdom in his book, Beyond Betrayal: Overcome Past Hurts and Begin to Trust Again. And we can send that to you for a donation of any amount to the ministry of Focus on the Family today. We’re gonna include a free audio download of the entire presentation with extra content as well. So, donate and request those at, or when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. That’s 800-232-6459. And let’s go ahead and return now to more from Phil Waldrep. Uh, this is a rather dramatic story. And so, if you have young children nearby, let me recommend that you use earbuds or listen online, uh, to the conclusion of this message.

Phil: You can forgive a person and never forget what they did. It doesn’t mean you call it to memory, you don’t act on it, but it’s there. Let me tell you something else I discovered. I kept thinking that forgiveness meant I had to restore the relationship to the same level it was before the betrayal. If the relationship is gonna be restored to the level, trust has to be earned. We give forgiveness. Trust has to be earned.

And some situations are so deep and so painful and so hurtful we may never be able to have a relationship with that person even if the betrayer seeks the relationship at the same level. Now, I want you to understand forgiveness does not mean that I have to restore everything to the same level. Trust has to be earned. Hear me carefully what I’m saying now. You’re not using it to punish, but trust has to be earned. Forgiveness is something you give.

“Well, Phil, if that’s true, then please tell me what is forgiveness?” I will. Forgiveness is when you give up all rights to revenge. Forgiveness is when you choose not to get even. Forgiveness is when you are able to say, “Even if that person is blessed, it’s okay. I’m not going to try to destroy the blessings on their life, but it means that if I am given the opportunity, I will not get even with the person who hurt me.” That’s forgiveness.

Now, you say, “Phil, if I make that choice, and I start that journey, what is it going to do?” Well, that’s the good part. Let me tell you two or three things it’s going to do. First of all, when you forgive the person who betrayed you and hurt you, it frees you from the person who betrayed you. You don’t realize it, but as long as you hold on to unforgiveness, your betrayer, the person who hurt you, has got a chain around you. They do. And they’re controlling you.

“Oh, no, they’re not.” Okay. Let me ask you. My, my worship leader friend who sees his father in that moment, he is totally emotionally paralyzed he can’t even lead worship because he had to come to realize that even though he had not seen his father in years, his father had this emotional chain around him, that just seeing him, now, granted, you might be uncomfortable, it’s different, but he literally was controlling his actions.

Everybody, when they’re hurt, they wanna get even. It’s a natural reac-… We just wanna get even. Here’s what we want. We want the person who hurt us to hurt at the same level as we’re hurting. So, we feel it’s our responsibility to inflict as much pain as we can upon that person. Well, let me ask you a question this morning. I want you to think about this. Have you ever met anybody who got even, who got the opportunity to legally get even? I have.

Debbie and I have a dear friend. Her name is Debbie Morris. Now, her name probably doesn’t resonate with you, but let me tell you her story. When Debbie Morris was 16 years of age, she was on a date, not a boy she was going steady with but just a boy that asked her out on a date, in their little town in Louisiana. And it was, kind of, the custom in that little town that everybody would, kind of, go to the movie or do their thing.

And then everybody, kind of, ended up at this little Dairy Queen in town, Dairy Queen type of place. I don’t know if that’s the name, but a little, little soda fountain type place. And so, she and the boy she was with had gotten there early. And they were just sitting in their car waiting for their friends to arrive. And another car pulled beside them. And two men, two adult men, got out and immediately grabbed Debbie and the boy she was with.

They put the boy in the trunk of the car, put her in the backseat, and sped away. Unknown to Debbie and that boy at that moment, that a man named Robert Lee Willie and his accomplice had just kidnapped them. And Robert Lee Willie was a serial rapist and murderer. Years later, a major motion picture called Dead Man Walking would be made about his life. But Robert Lee Willie took… come across Mississippi, got into South Alabama near Mobile, got the boy out of the trunk.

They literally… If you can believe this, they cut his throat, they shot him, and they hung him. And miraculously, when he was found, he was alive and still lives today. He had some challenges, but he lived through it. But they took Debbie to friends after they brutally raped her. And they let all of their friends rape her.

And, and over that weekend, they began to tell her about all the girls they had killed, actually took her to places where the murder had occurred and told her and taunted her by telling her that she, too, was going to die. That happened for several days. And for a reason, nobody really understands. Robert Lee Willie drove back to Louisiana near where they had kidnapped her. And he stopped the car and told her to get out. And she got out.

They told the story. They found the young man. Later, they were arrested. And they came back for trial, a trial that really would involve one of the girls that they had murdered, but yet Debbie was one of the key witnesses. And she said, “I love sitting on that bench and giving testimony of what he had done and what he had told me he had done, where he had put bodies, and how they had found out of that.”

And she said, “I thought, ‘Boy, this is sweet because of what you did to me.’ You ruined my life. You scarred my life.” Robert Lee Willie was given the death penalty. And even though there were appeals in the process, Debbie Morris, by her own admission, had fallen into that bitterness and anger and revenge. And she said, “If he dies the day they execute him, I will be free and I will be happy.”

And on that December day, when she got the call that Robert Lee Willie had been executed in the prison in Louisiana, she said, much to my surprise, “I wasn’t free. And I wasn’t happy. I had gotten the ultimate revenge, but I wasn’t happy.” Can I tell you something this morning? You can try all you want to get even and get revenge.

And even if you succeed, you won’t be happy because you’ll still be in bondage, but the moment you do it God’s way and you say, “I choose to forgive. Even when I don’t feel like it, I choose to forgive the person who betrayed me. I choose to forgive the person who hurt me. And therefore, I don’t have to pursue them anymore in trying to get revenge.”

When you can give up that right to revenge, then you’re gonna find, you’re gonna start being free. But through it all, let me tell you what else forgiveness does. Forgiveness frees you from the pain of a betrayal. Now, at this point, I don’t wanna mislead you. So, let me be very clear. When you choose to forgive a person, the pain doesn’t go away immediately. The pain doesn’t go away in 24 hours, two weeks, a year.

The pain will lessen, but if you start that journey, you will, one day, get to the place where you’re free of the pain. Hey, can I be transparent with you this morning? It took me nearly 20 years to be completely free of the pain. Now, it lessened, I had forgiven, but to finally get to the place where there is no pain. Can I tell you about the day I realized I was free from the pain? You see, what happened in my life is what’s happened in your life if somebody’s wounded you.

It attacks your self-worth. You feel like nothing. And you start examining your life. And you find that the betrayal has shattered your life and your life is in pieces. So, you look at your life and think, “Wow. Even if I tried to put it back together, it will never look the same. I’ll never be where I was.” That’s what I thought. And one day, I was speaking in a church. And I had a lot of downtime. And I thought I’d go somewhere and just kill time.

So, I remember I walked over to this antique shop. And I was just walking down through there. And it… one of the things that’s always fascinated me, personally, is old pottery. Now, most of you probably care less about old pottery, but those of you who do, you know that pottery that’s over 100 years old, made by the right company, can be very expensive, especially if it’s very ornate.

It can be very, very expensive. But you also know that a piece of pottery that has one chip, one crack, one flaw, one repair is worthless or has very little value. It has to be a perfect piece. And so, I was walking through this antique shop. And I saw some pottery. And I went over. And they had very several nice pieces of hull pottery and rosewood pottery and other types of expensive pottery. And then they had this one piece of pottery.

And I really thought it was, kind of, there’s a joke, because it obviously was in bad shape. Now, it had been repaired, but you could tell somebody had dropped that piece of pottery and it had gone in all these different pieces a- and sh-… h- had been broken and had been put together. And they didn’t even try to hide the flaws. And I thought, “Well, somebody’s put this in here and trying to sell it.”

And I looked at the price. And I thought, “Wow, that’s expensive, far more expensive than all the other pieces.” So, I went over to the lady who worked there. And I said, “I, I got to just ask you. Why is that piece so expensive?” She said, “Oh, sir, you don’t realize what it is, do you?” And I said “No, I do not.” She said, “That’s, uh, kintsugi.” I think that’s the way she said it. And I said, “That didn’t mean anything to me. What does that mean?”

She said, “Let me explain to you, sir. You see, over 100 years ago, wealthy people would use metal to eat but all the average people, poor people, had pottery. And in every culture of the world, when they would have a piece of pottery and they dropped it and it was broken, they just swept it up and they threw it out because it wasn’t worth anything anymore. Every culture did that except the Japanese culture. And in the Japanese culture, when a piece of pottery was broken, instead of throwing it out, they would pick up the pieces and they made an epoxy and they would put it back together, but when they did, for it to work, they had to include in the epoxy gold. And that made it hold together.”

And she said, “Sir, that piece of pottery is about 150 years of age. Yes, sir, it has been shattered, but it was put back together with that epoxy made with gold. And sir, it is worth far more now than a piece of pottery from that same era that had never been broken.” And what I’m trying to tell you today is something very simple. You’ve been betrayed and you’ve been hurt.

The pieces have been shattered. They’re all over in your life. “My life is worthless. I’ll never be the same.” But I got news for you. If you’ll pick up the pieces this morning, you’ll say, “Lord, I give you the broken pieces for you to put back together,” if you’ll do it His way, you will discover what I discovered. Forgiveness frees me forever.

John: Oh, what a terrific presentation from Pastor Phil Waldrep today on Focus on the Family.

Jim: Pastor Phil shared a lot of excellent advice. And I hope you’ve taken it to heart to let God heal those broken pieces of your life and give you a piece that surpasses understanding just like the scripture says. And if this program has brought up some uncomfortable memories for you, please get in touch with us. Our friendly staff would count it a privilege to hear your story and pray with you.

And if needed, uh, they’ll have one of our caring Christian counselors call you back for a free consultation. That’s a service we’ve provided here for over 40 years thanks to donors like you. And if you haven’t donated to Focus on the Family, can I encourage you to pray about doing so? We rely on your donations to get these helpful broadcasts on the air and to be able to follow up with those of you who need to talk.

Our counseling team alone, uh, responds to about 2,000 requests each month. And that’s a lot of hurting people that we can help together. And when you make a donation of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Phil’s book, Beyond Betrayal: Overcome Past Hurts and Begin to Trust Again. Get in touch with us today.

John: Yeah, call us if you need to speak to a counselor or if you’d like a copy of the book, Beyond Betrayal. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. That’s 800-232-6459, or you can find us online at Just a reminder that when you get the book from us at Focus on the Family, uh, we’ll send a free audio download of Pastor Phil’s entire presentation with extra content. Have a great weekend, and be sure to join us on Monday when you’ll hear how to have more joy in your marriage.


Dr. Marcus Warner: You think about it, uh, friendship is the foundation of a really good marriage. You wanna be good friends. And if you’re not playing together, are you really friends, you know? (laughs)

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Beyond Betrayal: Overcome Past Hurts and Begin to Trust Again

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